The TV Box: Terra Nova

Terra Nova

Since the end of LOST, there has been a Hurley sized hole in my television viewing pleasure centers.  Sure The Walking Dead is awesome (and will be returning in a few weeks), but only has six episodes to hang on… yes, Game of Thrones is fantastic, but will not be returning until spring… but without LOST, I have had no science fiction, no mythology driven shows that I and my geeky co-workers and friends can dissect and mull over minutia.  This season we have Terra Nova attempting to fill that very large hole.  Did it succeed?

After watching the pilot last night, the only answer I can give is… maybe.  Although I was interested in what I was watching, and thought there were some wonderful aspects to the show, it was not without its problems… and for me; those problems could end up derailing everything.

Set in the future Earth of 2149, global environmental catastrophe has reached the point where we can no longer see the sky, everyone must wear re-breathers and the fascist government of the United States mandates a two child limitation (very Ender’s Game).  Fortunately, a rift in the space/time continuum has opened up, and via some very clunky bits of exposition sprinkled throughout the show (thank goodness there wasn’t an ominous voiceover), we learn that this rift is a one way ticket to 85 million years in the past and it is not on the same timeline as we are, neatly taking care of the whole “squash a butterfly in the past, disrupt the future” paradox of time travel.

In a opening sequence that felt a bit forced and would have been better served by being a series of flashbacks or stories to come later, we learn that the Shannon family; Jim (Jason O’Mara), Liz (Shelley Conn), Josh (Landon Liboiron), Maddy (Naomi Scott) and Zoe (poor kid isn’t listed on IMDB), have broken the two child law, even though Jim is a cop, and instead of dealing with the fine, Jim tries to protect his family by assaulting the police and lands himself in prison.  Flash forward a couple of years and the Shannon family, sans jailbird dad, have been given the honor of being able to go to Terra Nova.  They need an immunologist, and guess what mom is?

OK… here is my first gripe (not my biggest one, but a friend of mine has some serious issues with this fact… and he’s right)… if it is such a privilege and honor to be selected to be a pilgrim to Terra Nova (this will be the tenth pilgrimage… more on that later), why would they select a doctor who has obviously broken the law by having a third child?  And when dear old dad breaks out of prison and illegally throws himself through the rift and into the past, why would he not be arrested on the spot as opposed to getting a job as a cop?  That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense… then again; this is a show where humans go live with dinosaurs.

On to gripe number two!  When everyone arrives in Terra Nova and sees their first dinosaurs, their first blue sky, first moon, first lung-full of good oxygen… you might think there would be a real sense of awe and wonder.  Nope, the little girl (illegally smuggled into Terra Nova in a back pack… multiple crimes committed here… nothing but reward.  Really?) grabs a branch and starts feeding a brontosaurus (shut up, I know they aren’t called that anymore, but to me they are still brontosaurs… so stick it).  No fear, no concern, no apprehension.  Either this kid will become a test pilot or she is autistic in some way.  Everyone’s reaction seemed a bit underwhelmed and too understated.

(Debating whether or not to go into gripe number three or move on… I’ll move on for now)

Stephen Lang… the bad ass bad guy from Avatar… here playing Nathaniel Taylor… the bad ass guy in Terra Nova.  He was the first man through the rift.  He rules Terra Nova… he may not be as nice a guy as he is coming off.  I’m quite certain he is as bad ass as he is coming off though… Lang does that well.  We know that he has a son who came in the second pilgrimage who has since gone missing.  We know that there is a rebel faction in this land know as the sixers… not the basketball team, but members of the sixth pilgrimage.  It is within this story line, the sixers and his son, that I believe most of the potential for the program comes from.  It is within this realm that I can imagine the greatest LOST-like influences.

Mysterious equations written all over some rocks, but they seem aged… is there another rift going further back?  A rebellion for reasons unknown.  A rebel leader with some connection to Taylor.  And dinosaurs… I suppose I should mention those.  They eat people.  They gnaw on legs.  They are scary and tough and in my opinion, look great.  The CGI may not be film quality, but they are totally serviceable for a television program.  My understanding is that this was meant to be released in May of 2010 but was held back due to quality issues with the CGI.  I’m not sure what they did in the intervening year and a half, but I thought the effects were quite good with moments of, “oh that’s freaking cool!”

Alright… third and final gripe… the writing was a bit shit and a few of the story lines feel a bit rushed.  Did they really need to pair of the two teen kids so quickly?  Is this Party of Five?  How the hell did Josh learn to fire a machine gun so quickly?  All characters feel a bit too one dimensional and clichéd.  This is its weakest spot, and if they can pull back from this, the show may work.

This, of course, is the lingering debate with LOST as well… was it really about the characters and their story arcs, or the mysteries of the island and the mythologies that came with those mysteries?  Is Terra Nova going to be about the Shannon family, or will it be more about Taylor and the (I keep wanting to call it an island… the what?) Terra Novan’s (?) mysteries.  I am going to hope that this is more about the mysteries as opposed to the Shannons.  For as much as I like O’Mara, I don’t see much in the way of an interesting story there… and this is coming from someone who loved the fact that LOST was about its characters and is a continual apologist for the series finale and how it all ended.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed the pilot for Terra Nova.  Will it hold up?  It certainly has a great deal of room for improvement, and frankly, only time will tell.  The first season is only thirteen episodes… my hope is that we will have a much better idea of where the show is headed in a few weeks.  By then I should be able to say whether or not I care to invest more time into this.  In the meantime, I will happily tune in next week to see where we will go next in Terra Nova.

My first crackpot theory:  Taylor’s son is somewhere in the past, leaving messages for the sixers and others in order to either stabilize or open new rifts in the space/time continuum.  Perhaps his son was the leader of the rebellion because he obviously has some sort of relationship with Mira (Christine Adams), the apparent leader of the sixers.

Welcome to Jurrasic Pa… I mean, Terra Nova!
Cornelius J. Blahg

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